Life and times in a Bee Hive

Speaker: Roy Godfrey
Date: 29th March
Year: 2017

Roy told us he has been beekeeping for forty-four years and is a member of The Solent Bee Keepers Association, he regards it as a “calling”. He suggested we might have a hive in our gardens as the bees are good for the environment and of course the bees make delicious honey! Make sure they are docile bees though.

If they are docile we may not need to dress up but will need to keep calm. There are volatile bees as well but they are better on farms, so beware!

Roy in full flow, bee hive on screen in the background

During his fascinating talk, we learned about what a bee keeper needs to do to keep the bees healthy. To investigate and observe the inside of a hive it is wise to dress in a white bee-keeping suit with elastic cuffs.

Smoke the hive with white smoke from a smoker to make the bees sleepy from eating too much honey, a survival instinct, and take the top off to check for diseases and to make sure they have enough food. They will need about 35 lbs of honey for winter. The top must not be removed after November otherwise the bees will get too cold. Typically, there are 50/60 thousand bees in a colony.

Roy told us about the different castes of bees, nurse bees look after the babies, house bees clean up the hive, guard bees guard the entrance and repel would be invaders, wasps like to get at the babies, robber bees try to get at the colonies food stores. Male drone bees from infertile eggs have no stingers and whose primary role is to mate with the fertile Queen.

10/12 drones do this and then they die! Female worker bees go out and collect pollen and nectar and produce and store honey. They do not reproduce. Undertaker bees remove dead bodies from the hive.

After mating at four days old, the Queen starts to lay eggs in the populus cleaned hexagonal cells at the rate of 500/day in January, building up to 2000/day in the summer. The cells are filled with nectar and honey to feed the grubs when they hatch which takes place after four days.

It takes 21 days from egg to baby worker bee, 23 days for a drone bee and only 16 days for a Queen bee. The Queen is fed on “Royal Jelly” and looked after by her attendants. Should she die or become aged a new Queen is made by feeding a grub continuously on “Royal Jelly” which is made in special glands in the heads of worker bees.

Any surplus is fed to the babies. The aged Queen is killed off by the younger Queen. However, the Queen’s smell inhibits workers from making a new Queen unnecessarily. If the hive gets congested the bees will swarm and fly off with a Queen to make a new colony, leaving an old Queen behind.

Roy told us his novel way of collecting a swarm, he uses a low powered vacuum cleaner which doesn’t harm the bees, just makes them a bit dizzy!

Roy’s talk revealed a lot about life in a bee hive and very complicated and amazing it is!

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